Identify best sources of on-site energy
With the variety of different renewable energy equipment out there today, I can't imagine any location that wouldn't be able to incorporate some kind of renewable energy equipment into an on-site energy solution. Think of the possibilities:
There is so much out there to consider. For our purposes, given our location, we determined that the most abundant, reliable, and affordable sources of renewable energy to research would be small-scale wind and solar energy equipment.
- Solar panels to source electricity through photovoltaic collection
- Solar collectors that are used to heat water
- Wind energy harnessed through wind turbines such as horizontal or vertical axis designs
- Air or geothermal heat exchangers that create efficiencies with heating and cooling
- Tidel generators that source energy in any turbulent water, such as the ocean
- Hydroelectric energy such as micro hydroelectric turbines that generate energy from the flow of water in even the smallest of streams
- Methane digesters that generate energy from farm manure or other agricultural produce
- Fuel cells that compactly and efficiently supply energy, such as from hydrogen
- Biofuels generated by renewable sources, such as switchgrass, canola beans, or willows, for production of ethanol and biodiesel
To figure out what kind(s) of energy sources are most likely to be effective solutions at your location, take the time to research the obvious and not-so-obvious sources around your property. If you operate a farm, agricultural or any other outdoor-related profession on the property under consideration, you probably know what the conditions are at any given spot: windy, sunny, sheltered, shaded, exposed, seasonal stream, etc.
Conduct online research and talk with other free public and private resources to gain additional information. Don't forget to look locally, too: a bit of leg work may help you find others in the community who are using renewables. Inquire at the local government offices, such as those that oversee building code enforcement, to learn of others in the area that may have already implemented equipment you are considering (and while you are at it, inquire about any restrictions and compliance issues there may be in your community for the kind of equipment you are considering). Although the conditions vary from one property to another, there are some considerations and lessons-learned that are specific to each local community. Talking with locals more experienced, if there are any in your immediate community, can introduce some surprising insights on using renewables given the conditions and requirements in your area.
Once you have begun to formulate what sources of energy may be the most abundant and reliable for your property, you can add some science to your research. It is worthwhile to make the small investment in the purchase of measuring equipment. When investigating wind and solar, a helpful piece of equipment would be a small weather station. These little gadgets can run on solar energy and batteries and they can measure the amount of wind or solar radiation at any given spot you select. You can conduct your own on-site research to investigate and measure the viability of the renewable energy sources you are considering.
For most locations across the US, wind and solar energy are the most likely and available resources. Unless you have a maple syrup producer with a sugar shack located quite a distance into dense woods, solar energy is a good option anywhere in the US where there is some open area. Likewise, unless you have a building that is located deep inside a mine shaft, wind is an option in most places. Micro-hydro would require a stream on the property, and of course other options like methane digesters would require a source of methane (manure, etc). We'll get into detail on wind and solar since that is what we researched.
Our property is well exposed to both sun and wind. Located on a hilltop with few obstructions, wind and solar were real possibilities. We invested in a small weather station. You can purchase a variety of weather stations and expect to spend at minimum $200 for a unit - they can measure wind speed and direction, solar radiation, rain quantity, temperature, and other nifty measurements. Of course the wind and solar measurements would be the relevant data you are looking for (the models that measure either or both tend to come standard with these other climate measurements). The more expensive models can electronically store the collected data for downloading or transmitting to a computer. With the less expensive models, you'll have to log the measurements yourself. If you can afford it, I would definitely recommend purchasing a model with the data downloading capability, which will save you time and effort in the end. Because these data recording models record the data on programmed intervals (such as every 10 minutes), you will also get a more consistent and accurate recording of data.
From the data recorded from a weather station, you can extrapolate how much energy you may be able to generate at the location. As a start, that data can help you determine if wind or solar are viable options at the location.
Collecting Data with a Weather Station
||Weather station measuring possible wind turbine location at our Farm
This data collection with a weather station when testing for wind or solar viability is a very important step in order to help determine the size of the system you may need. You'll need to find out what a given location can generate on average versus what you have pre-determined will be you energy demand. If you have more than one area that you would like to investigate as a possible location for placing the renewable energy equipment, there are a few ways you can try to determine which locations would be best using a weather station to collect data:
- The least expensive, but less practical method, would be to use one weather station that you leave in one spot for a period of time, and optimally, measure the other spots for the same length of time (for instance, one year in one spot, one year in the second spot
the gift of time would be needed).
- A more effective and a bit more expensive method would be to purchase more than one weather station; if you have three spots that are of interest, you would purchase three stations.
- An even better option is to purchase add-ons to your weather station, often termed a sensor suite. This allows you to purchase just one main weather station and then place duplicate measuring accessories at the various locations. The measuring sensors placed at each location communicates the data as it is collected to the main weather station which downloads and stores the data.
For all renewable energy equipment, there are other paperwork and construction considerations that will impact placement and installation, such as height of a tower. We will not detail them here, as they are specific to local laws, ordinances, easement restrictions, and other mandates specific to your locale or property. You should always work with your local code enforcement or zoning officer to make sure you are following mandates specific to your property, and obtain any permits or clearances required. For instance, local or state laws may have set-back requirements such as from property lines or buildings, or they may restrict tower heights. Your local code enforcement office is a good place to start investigating what regulations and agencies you may need to begin researching.
For more details, please visit these pages:
Determining best site locations for small scale wind energy
Determining best site locations for solar energy
Determining best location(s) to station the equipment inside and outside the building
Some thoughts on hiring professional consultants